Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Sunset Park by Paul Auster

I recently read Sunset Park by Paul Auster. It was an interesting book. It is set basically in the present time, 2008. The hero is Miles Heller, the son of a New York publisher and his mom is a name actress.

Miles abruptly leaves the family 7 years ago with a year of college left. He bounces around America doing different low end jobs. He does not contact his family during the time away. The story begins in Florida where Miles is working as a "trash out" worker in the 2008 foreclosure epidemic. The trash out people go into repossessed houses after the foreclosure to clean them up and make them ready to go back on the market. There is apparently a healthy side business in trash out which is that the former occupiers of the houses in their hasty departure ahead of the bank and other stiffed creditors often leave behind valuables like TVs or nice appliances. Technically these are supposed to be returned to the bank but in reality the trash out people get first pick as a perq of an otherwise tough, miserable, depressing job.

Miles originally refuses to partake in this corruption. However after he meets Pilar, a 17 year old Cuban girl, Miles changes. He falls in love with Pilar and despite being underage they move in together. In order to get Pilar's older sister Angela to agree to this (Angela is the leader of the family after their parents died), Miles joins the others and steals various expensive items from the houses and gives them to Angela in exchange for Pilar being able to move in with him.

After a while Angela issues demands for fresh trash out bounty. Miles refuses. Angela reminds Miles that Pilar is underage and threatens to call the police. Between the police threat and a visit from some bouncer thugs from the bar Angela works at Miles wisely beats it out of Florida. He returns to New York after the 7 years away. Back in New York Miles settles into an abandoned house as a squatter with his old friend Bing and two interesting women Alice and Ellen.

I mostly liked reading this book. At some level I admired Miles, his principles and self discipline. Leaving the comfortable life in the first place and making his way. Refusing the trash out bounty. Although Miles isn't consistent as he indulges the inappropriate romance with Pilar and did engage in the trash out theft when it was to his interest.

I couldn't really grasp Miles attraction to Pilar. First there's the issue of her being 17 and he 28. The author points out that Miles is 6 ft, 185 lbs and solidly built. Miles has gone out with good looking women throughout his life so I couldn't really grasp his fascination with Pilar. Even in the NY house there are attractive and intelligent women right there which demonstrates Miles would have plenty of opportunity to meet more suitable women.

It was a book that makes you think. It reminded me of the books I might have read in high school or undergrad. The kind of books that are "meant to be analysed". I probably wouldn't mind reading an essay on this book if there was one. There's probably enough in there to at least make a decent year end thesis.

I like that it was mostly in New York. I generally like New York stories with the Jews, the diners, the neighbourhoods, etc. If nothing else this book is a good New York story.

The author takes on the challenging task of including writers and writing prominently in the book. Miles father Morris is the owner of a publishing house. Alice is a grad student in English and works at PEN. Auster handles this pretty well. Often when the subject is writers you end up with trash like The World According to Garp, or the Miseryable Stephen King "writers and writing" series that destroyed his career.

Overall it was a good read and I would recommend it. I would read some other Auster if I come across it.

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